writer and domestic dude

A Movable Innovator’s Fest: 9 Essential Experiments and Game Books

A cornucopia of gaming and literature. The first five are literary, the final four represents a broader spectrum of current cutting edge and theoretical approaches.

1. Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature

The name Oulipo is “an acronym for Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle, or Workshop for Potential Literature,” the society is “a sort of literary supper club” whose public performances can be “joyous occasions of sublimely mischievous wit.” The Oulipo was also established humbly enough as an “outlet for restless creative energy” for its members. Public readings didn’t even start for a decade. Drawn to the groups mystique, Becker secured a Fulbright to study the organization in Paris. He was eventually offered membership.

It seems too that the potential of the potential is growing in other collectives of artistic and intellectual pursuits. Oulipo has inspired the creation of: the OuMuPo (a collective of DJs), the OuMaPo (marionette players), the OuBaPo (comic strip artists), the OuFlarfPo (poets who generate poetry with the aid of search engines), and a menagerie of other Ou-X-Pos (workshops for potential something).

Becker discusses these and other intriguing developments in this history and personal appreciation of an iconic—and iconoclastic—group. No wonder he says that being invited to join the group was “one of the greatest moments of my life.”

2. An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris

On an overcast weekend in October 1974, Perec sets out in quest of the “infraordinary”: the humdrum, the non-event, the everyday–what happens, as he puts it, “when nothing happens.” His choice of locale was Place Saint-Sulpice, where, ensconced behind first one cafe window, then another, he spends three days recording everything to pass through his field of vision: from the people walking by to buses to a wedding (and then a funeral) at the church in the center of the square, “signs, symbols and slogans littering everything, and the darkness that finally absorbs it all,” as translator Marc Lowenthal puts it. a melancholic and probably exhausting to an impatient reader at first. Over “time” it becomes an eerie and touching document in which the line between the empirical and the surreal grows thin.

3. A Handbook for the Perfect Adventurer

The written adventure story should merely be a starting point. The real adventure unfolds in the mind, rather than simply following the page. The more left to the mind, the better.

The active adventurer does serve one major purpose. He serves as a counterpoint. He creates the content itself from stupidly living out the adventures themselves. It’s a Möbius strip: the passive adventurer creates the adventure novels that are then read by future passive adventurers, who then evolve to become the next generation of passive adventurers, and in turn, those who don’t evolve to become passive adventurers instead pick up their weapons and trophies on their way to becoming the next active adventurer—those are the people who serve as subjects for their passive counterparts.

As Orlan writes, “The great driving force of the passive adventurer is his imagination.”

4. Exercises in Style

Raymond Queneau’s accessible, humorous, and in the end, genius book mulls over an apparently meaningless morning from a variety of writing approaches. As Barbara Wright writes, “His purpose here, in the Exercises, is, I think, a profound exploration into the possibilities of language. It is an experiment in the philosophy of language. He pushes language around in a multiplicity of directions to see what will happen. As he is a virtuoso of language and likes to amuse himself and his readers, he pushes it a bit further than might appear necessary–he exaggerates the various styles into a reductio ad absurdum.”

Queneau himself said, “I started from a real incident, and in the first place I told it 12 times in different ways. Then a year later I did another 12, and finally there were 99. People have tried to see it as an attempt to demolish literature–that was not all my intention.”

That Queneau has done this without boring the reader at all, is perhaps the most amazing thing about this ingenious book.

5. Hopscotch: A Novel

Be willing to make a small personal investment in this very special novel, and the reward you reap will be a worthy one. Horacio Oliveira is an Argentinian writer who lives in Paris with his mistress, La Maga, surrounded by a loose-knit circle of bohemian friends who call themselves “the Club.” A child’s death and La Maga’s disappearance put an end to his life of empty pleasures and intellectual acrobatics, and prompt Oliveira to return to Buenos Aires, where he works by turns as a salesman, a keeper of a circus cat which can truly count, and an attendant in an insane asylum. Hopscotch is the freewheeling account of Oliveira’s adventures.

The book compares as a kind of south American Ulysses. Given the alternative reading, prescribed by Cortazar once you’ve read it through straight, and you have a one-of-a-kind Olympian literary achievement. See what else Cortazar has up his sleeve when discusses games, literary fame, and the imagination’s role.

As Pablo Neruda famously expressed about the young upstart, “People who do not read Cortazar are doomed. Not to read him is a serious invisible disease.”

6. Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media

An inspiring and compelling compendium on games and other playable forms, from interactive fictions to improvisational theater, involve role playing and story–something played and something told. Game designers, authors, artists, and scholars examine the different ways in which these two elements work together in tabletop role-playing games (RPGs), computer games, board games, card games, electronic literature, political simulations, locative media, massively multiplayer games, and other forms that invite and structure play.

My personal favorite of the three books in the series, Second Person–so called because in these games and playable media it is “you” who plays the roles, “you” for whom the story is being told–first considers tabletop games ranging from Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs with an explicit social component, to Kim Newman’s Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style novel, Life’s Lottery, and its more traditional author-reader interaction. Contributors also examine computer-based playable structures that are designed for solo interaction, and look at the intersection of the social spaces of play and the real world.

7. First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game

Isn’t it possible that many hugely successful computer games–those that depend on or at least utilize storytelling conventions of narrative, character, and theme–can be seen as examples of electronic literature? And isn’t it likely that the truly significant new forms of electronic literature will prove to be (like games) so deeply interactive and procedural that it would be impossible to present them as paper-like “e-books”?

The editors of First Person have gathered a remarkably diverse group of new media theorists and practitioners to consider the relationship between “story” and “game,” as well as the new kinds of artistic creation (literary, performative, playful) that have become possible in the digital environment. The conversational structure inspired contributors to revise, update, and expand their presentations as they prepared them for the book, and the panel discussions have overflowed into a First Person web site created in conjunction with the online journal Electronic Book Review.

8.Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives

Probably most useful for its theory, than for the extended case study for how to create an environment for students to make their own interactive game. Jeff Howard’s unique take on quests, incorporating literary and digital theory, provides an excellent resource for game developers. Focused on both the theory and practice of the four main aspects of quests (spaces, objects, actors, and challenges) each theoretical section is followed by a practical section that contains exercises using the Neverwinter Nights Aurora Toolset.

Howard even considers a heady array of writes and thinkers who he calls classic theorists in the history of quest narratives: Joseph Campbell and his early monomyth theory, Northrop Frye, W.H. Auden, and Vladimir Propp.

9. Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers

Part of what Steven Johnson means when he says innovators need chaos, time, and a diversity of people, Gamestorming focuses on creating an environment for creative thinking and innovation in the workplace. Especially in a workplace where people are supposed to be “ideating.” Featuring more than 80 games to help you break down barriers, communicate better, and generate new ideas, insights, and strategies. The authors have identified tools and techniques from some of the world’s most innovative professionals, whose teams collaborate and make great things happen. A unique collection of games that encourage engagement and creativity while bringing more structure and clarity to the workplace.

Each of these books are potential “game changers” for writers and thinkers looking to break out and redirect in new and adventurous ways, and for readers looking for the same thing.

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